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Hyun-Jin Ryu adds chapter to remarkable comeback story with NLDS victory

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Divisional Round - Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game One Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — The decision to start Hyun-Jin Ryu over Clayton Kershaw was not without its fair share of controversy — warranted or not. Kershaw has been the guy for a decade and has started every playoff opener he was capable of when on regular rest.

When the curtain came down on the opening act of Game 1 Thursday, the decision looked like it was right all along. Ryu tossed seven solid innings as the Dodgers blanked the Braves 6-0 in front of nearly 51,000 at Dodger Stadium.

“I don’t think I need to answer that,” manager Dave Roberts said when asked about the organization’s decision in hindsight. “I think we feel pretty good about it. He pitched well.”

“He had command to both sides of the plate, command of the secondary. He was in control. There was a lot of soft contact. He was doing what he wanted to do, missing bats, the no walks, and really competed well. It was good to see, and we needed that one.”

Including the postseason, the Dodgers are now 8-2 this season when Ryu starts at Dodger Stadium. The lefty has yielded 12 runs (seven earned) in 61 23 innings to the tune of a 1.02 ERA in those 10 games.

“I can’t think of a really good reason why I’m so good at the home stadium, but having the fans behind my back definitely helps,” said Ryu. “And leading the season strong a couple of games at home definitely made me build more confidence going into the future outings, too.”

Ryu has come a long way since having surgery on a torn labrum in his left shoulder prior to the 2015 season, ending his year before it began. Since having the surgery, the 31-year-old has made 39 starts over the past two seasons, after making just one in 2016.

Entering Thursday, Ryu hadn’t pitched in the postseason since 2014.

“When I decided to do the surgery back then, it was under the premise that I would get back to the mound almost as good as I was before,” Ryu said. “Definitely the three years of the process was tough, but tonight seemed to be the fruition of all that hard work that I put in.”

Justin Turner raved about his teammate earlier this week, saying there would’ve been Cy Young Award discussion had Ryu been healthy all year. “He’s a low-pulse guy,” said Turner. “He never gets too up, never gets too down. He kind of ho-hums his way through stuff. He’s got four quality pitches and his location was unbelievable.”

The success rate for a major league pitcher to return to the level they were competing at pre-surgery after a torn labrum is relatively low. It took the better part of three years for the Dodgers to get Ryu back to the level he’s at now, and he is rewarding their patience.

“It’s remarkable. It really is,” said Roberts. “And I think that you see guys that are a lot more emotional, vocal, but don’t have the same compete as Hyun-Jin. And it’s -- a lot of it is that inner drive and fire and compete.”

“Many teammates have told me that this guy has ice in his veins, and he’s a big-game pitcher. And the more I’ve gotten to see him execute pitches in big spots, it’s kind of come to fruition. And this year, even with what he went through, he was determined to get back here.”

Ryu wasn’t happy that he wasn’t included in the 2017 postseason run for the Dodgers. But it was more for his lack of performance, going only 19 innings over his final five starts that saw him surrender 13 runs.

“I know it hurt him,” Roberts added. And so he was going to do everything he could to force our hand by performing to be in this position that he put himself in. So he’s in as good of shape as I’ve seen him in. And he’s worked his tail off to get here.”

Now the Dodgers turn the ball over to Kershaw with a 1-0 lead, giving the Braves the tough task of beating Los Angeles in three of four games if they want to go deeper in this postseason.